Story | 13 Jul, 2023

Geology underpins biodiversity

Dr Manuel Monge-Ganuzas tells Unite for Nature how protecting the planet’s geological heritage – often overlooked in nature conservation – is crucial to preserving the natural world


Dr Monge-Ganuzas works with three IUCN Member organisations dedicated to geo-conservation: ProGEO (the International Association for the Conservation of Geological Heritage); the Spanish Geological Society; and the Spanish Society for the Defence of Geological and Mining Heritage (SEDPGYM). He is also a Member of the Geoheritage Specialist Group of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas.

What is geoconservation?

We define geodiversity as the variety of natural elements – minerals, rocks, fossils, landforms, sediments, soils – and the geological processes that alter them. Together with biodiversity, this constitutes the entire natural diversity of the planet.

In many ways, geodiversity underpins biodiversity and provides society with benefits, both ecological and cultural. The fluctuations of a stream in the mountains can impact species living in a river downstream, for example, or rocks in a lake can influence the pH, which determines what can live in there. An effective conservation strategy helps raise awareness of the geological component of ecosystem services. We need rocks, we need soils, we need geological processes, and we need minerals for the development of all life.

Geoheritage compiles the elements of geology that together represent the history of the Earth; both non-living, such as layers of rock, and living, such as fossils. Understanding geoheritage allows us to know, study and interpret the evolution of the Earth.

What does geoconservation involve?

There is a growing group of geoscientists who are focused on geoconservation and management of geoheritage worldwide. We have to characterise and assess the geodiversity and choose the most representative elements that should be considered part of the world’s geoheritage. This means it has value and is worthy of saving for future generations. This can be in situ heritage, i.e. geosites, or ex situ – such as museum collections of minerals, rocks, fossils or meteorites.

We face challenges from human development, and an absence of proper international legal protections or agreements on things like the trafficking of geological specimens1 or geosite protection. Moreover, there is a tremendous lack of knowledge about geoconservation in protected areas, not only in management plans but also on the interpretation offered to visitors.

There is also an important cultural heritage related to the geological and mining heritage which must also be preserved. In this respect, IUCN resolution 88 was adopted2 at the World Conservation Congress (WCC) in 2020.

Every where there is beautiful geodiversity, we just have to see it and understand it

What is your favourite geological site?

That’s like asking which parent I prefer! I am from the Basque Country, and geosites there are the best of the best in my view. But everywhere there is beautiful geodiversity, we just have to see it and understand it. Our key initiative is to identify the geological heritage of the world. The idea to identify important areas for geoheritage, like Key Biodiversity Areas, is under discussion, thanks to the recent IUCN resolution 74 at WCC in 2020.

How can we find out more?

IUCN’s Geoheritage Specialist Group has published Guidelines for Geoconservation in Protected and Conserved Areas, and other resources in this area. The most relevant articles about this topic are published in an international scientific journal, Geoheritage.

In 2007, we managed to get geoconservation introduced into the Spanish natural conservation law, so Spain has a solid framework for how to do geoconservation, in case IUCN members in other countries are interested to learn from this experience.

Find out more - Group of geoheritage specialists